Pet Projects

Animal Fiction and Taxidermy in the Nineteenth-Century Archive

By (author) Elizabeth Young

Hardback - £31.95

Publication date:

15 December 2019

Length of book:

280 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271084947

In Pet Projects, Elizabeth Young joins an analysis of the representation of animals in nineteenth-century fiction, taxidermy, and the visual arts with a first-person reflection on her own scholarly journey. Centering on Margaret Marshall Saunders, a Canadian woman writer once famous for her animal novels, and incorporating Young’s own experience of a beloved animal’s illness, this study highlights the personal and intellectual stakes of a “pet project” of cultural criticism.

Young assembles a broad archive of materials, beginning with Saunders’s novels and widening outward to include fiction, nonfiction, photography, and taxidermy. She coins the term “first-dog voice” to describe the narrative technique of novels, such as Saunders’s Beautiful Joe, written in the first person from the perspective of an animal. She connects this voice to contemporary political issues, revealing how animal fiction such as Saunders’s reanimates nineteenth-century writing about both feminism and slavery. Highlighting the prominence of taxidermy in the late nineteenth century, she suggests that Saunders transforms taxidermic techniques in surprising ways that provide new forms of authority for women. Young adapts Freud to analyze literary representations of mourning by and for animals, and she examines how Canadian writers, including Saunders, use animals to explore race, ethnicity, and national identity. Her wide-ranging investigation incorporates twenty-first as well as nineteenth-century works of literature and culture, including recent art using taxidermy and contemporary film. Throughout, she reflects on the tools she uses to craft her analyses, examining the state of scholarly fields from feminist criticism to animal studies.

With a lively, first-person voice that highlights experiences usually concealed in academic studies by scholarly discourse—such as detours, zigzags, roadblocks, and personal experience—this unique and innovative book will delight animal enthusiasts and academics in the fields of animal studies, gender studies, American studies, and Canadian studies.

Pet Projects takes animal humanities research to new heights. Recovering the animal-advocacy stories of Canada’s first best-selling author, Margaret Marshall Saunders, Young also uses feminist personal criticism to frame a timely history of animal studies, one that calls out the desires of so many to invent the field, while at the same time identifying how its development has involved collaborative negotiations at the crossroads of disciplines.”

—Susan McHugh, author of Love in a Time of Slaughters: Human-Animal Stories Against Genocide and Extinction